Archives for category: Explorers
One for the railroad!

One for the railroad!

This Spring has brought torrential rains. More than that, the season’s been delayed. That meant I could recently capture a freight train go by without the cover of foliage. Boxcars, liquid tankers, open-topped coal and scrap cars, grainers and gondolas. Many graffiti-laden, some empty, some loaded. That engine pulled it all!

I love a good train ride. Not the commuter sort but a true “going-some-place” trip. Even better if it’s spontaneous. The steady rumble of the carriages snaking over the ties and the metal-on-metal clanks as the wheels round a curve are soothing. The clickety-clacks are rhythmically lulling. Real sounds, not intrusive noise. I’d much prefer the clatter of the rails than the clutter of loud, lazily-worded hype polluting the airwaves as I fill up. Having to press “Mute” is akin to the “2” if I want English. Even silence in this country has now become hard-earned and costly.

I digress. Or make that “derail.” But wait, the common train of thought here is freedom. Freedom to think, move, react or say. Or not to. Freed from lame commercial pitches at every turn. Friends, decibel-level and frequency do not make up for poor content.

Hobos…now they had it right. At least the general idea. And by that, I don’t mean bum with his hand out or ex-con transient. I’m talkin’ original globally mobile, small-carbon-footprint, bohemian type: the westward-bound, hard-working migrant. Which made me curious about the word’s origin. Possibly homegrown, “hobo” could come from “ho, boy,” a worker’s call on late-1800’s western US railroads. Or it may be derived from an early 19th century English dialect term, hawbuck, for “lout, clumsy fellow, bumpkin.”

How Boxcar Willie entered the picture? Whooaa, the tracks of my mind. But what a nickname! If you’re not familiar with his music, here’s your ticket. Scruffy beard, pin-studded floppy hat and jacket lapel, overalls and the trademark bandana. That’s the self-proclaimed world’s favorite hobo. Accompanied by his red bandana-necked band wearing striped conductor hats. And for the train buff, the ultimate whistle! Whoooo whoo!


Speed, sizzle and sass.

McKayla, love your daring acrobatics. Keep on flying!

Mighty vaulter.
Calm, cool and collected.
Killer technique.
Amazing amplitude,
You go, girl!
Lands and sticks it.

“Remember, there are babes in the woods.”

My favorite forest fire prevention PSA out of all of Smokey’s tireless evangelism is “Death rides the forest when man is careless,” which actually predates him. Born in 1943, “the bear/man” is approaching seventy. Take a walk along his trail map of gracious and patient pleas to see how he has grown up yet never aged.

Smokey has always kept good company. From Bing Crosby, Art Linkletter and James Arness (Gunsmoke) in the 50’s and 60’s  to Spock, The Grateful Dead and Cheech and Chong in 1985 radio spots and Sam Elliott (smokin’ himself) in 2008, the threat has evolved in name, too: from forest fires, range fires and campfires to wildfires and backyard leaf burning. HotFootTeddy was kind enough to lend the website images of all kinds of stuffed Smokeys over the decades. Alas, Smokey was more real before CGI rendered him artificial, less personable and convincing — you know, as hollow as that decayed stump over there.


The first few times I experienced this store, I was impressed. That was a decade or thereabouts in Seattle. Time has been relatively good to this brand, but I am not their target audience (if I ever was). I used to enjoy the mix of seemingly old and new, different labels under one “house,” and the discovery that was always a part of their brand. Just seems that they’ve been on a slide to bland. The clothes look and feel much cheaper now, there’s too much of it out (the racks are clogged). The need to hit the refresh button. The merch is increasingly poorly sewn, knit designs are stamped instead of woven, the countries of origin of the independent labels are more and more those hawking cheap labor, the fabrics are flimsy and lack hand, the amount and sizes of goods put on sale reflect a disconnect with the knowledge of their audiences. The one constant is the catalogs — amazingly concepted and shot — and learning about the occasional label that is one-of-a-kind, sometimes from former Anthropologists. The ‘logs “transport” you, even though they keep their locations a secret, which is silly. Their online vintage offerings are remarkable particularly with respect pricing. The stores are still fun for a quick walk-through now and then, less now and more then.


I recently came across a wonderful shop chock full of mid-century (give or take) pride and craftsmanship. Esther is one sharp curator of well-cared-for items from all over. Stepping into Modern Star is like a tactile history lesson. It’s hard to find something still made in this country, which is why the past looks so good these days. It’s not hard to find Esther:  228 W. Hancock Ave., downtown Athens, GA (right next to The National). Open Tuesday through Sunday. Get there for yourself. Go there for gifts. The point being, it’s worth a visit. Nothing beats the heat like cool vintage.

What better way to cool off in this incessant mid-90° heat than armchair-traveling to the extreme north…you know, way up there, the Arctic. I just finished the book, Ending in Ice, about the German expeditionist, Alfred Wegener, who led the then unthinkable pursuit of further developing what would eventually give rise to the continental drift theory…that continents move horizontally with respect to one another and that Earth’s continents were indeed once joined and had drifted or torn apart from one another. (Remember learning how eastern South America uncannily lines up with western Africa?) In terms of leadership, perseverance, putting the lives of his fellow team members before his own, keeping his word amidst diversity, thinking on his feet, mentoring, etc., he’s right up there with Shackleton. Yet, most people have never heard of this first-rate climatologist.

And that was exactly his problem…letting his fellow scholars too narrowly define him by his meteorology background or more precisely, by what he was not: a geologist. Circa 1915, when Wegener was hot on the cold trail, researchers and professors rarely strayed into others’ disciplines. That was akin to personal brand dilution, even professional suicide. Being able to hypothesize, collaborate and bring about results “cross-functionally” was not the desirable business skill set that it is today. In fact, the territorial academic mindset was frozen (pun intended) until the early 60’s, some 30 years after Wegener’s death.

While the book is unfortunately not well written (too much jumping back and forth which causes repetition), it is worth a read. Wegener is a compelling figure with numerous accomplishments to his credit, and I enjoyed learning about him. If you’re in NYC before January 3rd, be sure to take in the American Museum of Natural History’s “Race to the End of the Earth,” an exhibit of southern polar conquest and exploration.

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